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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LESSON XXI. THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge

LESSON XXI. THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH.

|Ten men shall take hold, out of all language of all nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.| -- Zech. viii.23.

By the coming of Him who had been so long promised, in His human Body, and the completion of His sacrifice, all the objects of the old ceremonial Law were fulfilled; the shadows passed away and substance took their place, so that the comers thereunto might be made perfect. Instead of being admitted to the covenant by circumcision, which was only a type of putting away the uncleanness of the flesh, the believers were washed from sin in the now fully revealed Name of the Holy Trinity, in the Fountain of Christ's Blood, open for all sin and uncleanness, and the penitent had a right to be constantly purified in the living cleansing streams of grace and pardon. The one great Passover had been offered, to redeem the chosen from the slavery of Satan, and the highway was opened for the ransomed to pass over with songs of joy, keeping the Resurrection Day instead of the Sabbath. Means had been given of their constantly partaking of that Passover, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and thus tasting of the Eternal Sacrifice, in right of which they prayed to the Father, to whom they were united as members of His Son. The one great Day of Atonement was over, and the true High Priest had entered for ever into the Holy Place, opening a way where all might follow to the Mercy Seat, there offering His own Sacrifice, and presenting their prayers. And even in Heaven, He still was the Shepherd of the little flock, to whom it was His good pleasure to give the Kingdom; feeding them, appointing under shepherds, and guarding them gently from His Throne above. The sealed Book of type and prophecy was open and clear at His touch; and the Old Testament found full explanation and fulfilment in the New; and now it, remained to make known the good tidings, and gather in all nations, Jew and Gentile alike, to the Lord's Flock, the Church or House of the Lord, as it was called.

One hundred and twenty believers in their risen Lord awaited together the coming of the promised Comforter, who should abide with them for ever, to guide them into all truth, and to enable them to proclaim the accomplishment of all the promises. The eleven Apostles, who, as their name implied, had been sent forth by their Lord, added to their number Matthias, in the place of the traitor Judas, laying hands on him in order to carry on the Gift that the Saviour had breathed upon them. Besides these, there were the seventy whom our Lord had sent out in pairs, and whose order was afterwards called the elders, presbyters, or priests.

They were all gathered in the upper room to keep the Feast of Weeks, in memory of the giving the Law, when He came upon them Who could enable that Law to be kept, bringing the Divine Presence, which is the pervading Life of the whole Body. His coming was marked by such open signs, as to draw the attention of all the pilgrim Jews, who had come from their distant homes to keep the feast. St. Peter expounded to them that the time of fulfilment was come, and that Jesus, crucified and risen, was their Salvation.3,000 at once accepted the New Covenant, and were baptized; and thus, on the day of Pentecost, A.D.33, the Church of Christ sprang into full life. Many of the converts sold their goods, and brought the price to the Apostles, all living on one common stock, and giving bounteous alms; but the new converts of Greek education, found their poor less well provided than the native Jews, and to supply them, seven deacons, or ministers, were set apart as the serving order of the ministry. Foremost of these was Stephen, who, about two years after the Ascension, bore the first witness through death to the doctrine which he taught,

[Footnote 1: Apostle -- one sent] being stoned by the people in a sudden fit of fury, at his showing how the whole course of their history was but a preparation for Him whom they had crucified.

In the year 37, Pilate was recalled to Rome to answer the many charges against him. He was sentenced to banishment in Gaul, and there suffered so much from remorse, that he killed himself. At the time of his deposition, the Caesar, Tiberius, was dying, hated by all, and leaving his empire to his nephew, Caligula, who had been a youth of great promise; but he lost his senses in a fever, and did all sorts of strange wild things -- made his horse a consul, tried to make him eat gilded oats, and once, at a wild beast show, turned the lions in on the spectators. Shortly before his illness, Herod Agrippa, the son of Herod the Great's murdered son, Aristobulus, while driving in a chariot with him, had said how glad everyone would be to see him reigning. The charioteer reported the speech, and Tiberius punished it by keeping Herod in prison, chained to a soldier; but to make up for his sufferings, Caligula no sooner became emperor than he set him free, gave him a crown, made him King of Trachonitis and Abilene, and presented him with a gold chain of the same weight as the fetters which he had worn in prison. This chain Herod hung up in the Temple, for he was a zealous Jew, although such a friend of heathen princes, and he seems to have been greatly puffed up with admiration of his own good management. His sister Herodias, envious of his crown, persuaded her husband, Herod Antipas, to go and sue for another at Rome; but all he gained by his journey was an inquiry into his conduct, which ended in his being exiled to Gaul, and his domain being given to Herod Agrippa. In A.D.41, the miserable madman Caligula, was killed, but Herod Agrippa continued in high favour with the next emperor, the moody Claudius, and under him the Jews had again the power of giving sentence of death. They used it to persecute the disciples; and this led to many leaving Jerusalem, and carrying the knowledge of the faith to more distant parts. Saul, or Paul, a Benjamite, born at Tarsus, in Asia Minor, a place where the inhabitants were reckoned as Roman citizens, was learned in Greek philosophy, and deeply versed in the Jewish doctrines: he was a zealous Pharisee, and a vehement persecutor, till he was called by the Lord Himself from Heaven, and told that his special mission should be to the Gentiles; and about the same time, it was revealed to St. Peter in a vision, that the hedge of the ceremonial Law was taken down, and no distinction should henceforth be made between the nations, who had been all alike cleansed by the Blood of Redemption. The Roman soldier, Cornelius, was the first-fruits of a mighty harvest; and the Greeks and Romans in general, gave far more ready audience to the Apostles, than did the Jews.

The hatred of the Jews moved Herod Agrippa to put to death James the son of Zebedee, the first Apostle to drink of his Master's Cup; and he would likewise have slain Peter, had not the Angel delivered that Saint out of prison, in answer to the prayers of the Church. The pride of Herod had come to a height. He celebrated games at Caesarea in honour of the emperor, and in the midst came forth in a robe of cloth of silver, to give audience to an embassy from Tyre and Zidon. At his speech, the people shouted, |It is the voice of a god, not the voice of a man!| But while Herod listened and took the glory to himself, he felt a deadly stroke, which made him cry, |Your god is dying!| and in five days he was dead. His son, Agrippa, was too young to take the government, and a Roman procurator was appointed.

About this time the Apostles departed on their several missions. It is said that ere doing so, they agreed on the Creed or watchword of the Church; but it was not written down till more than three hundred years later, lest the heathen should learn it and blaspheme it. Wherever they went they ordained elders and deacons, and in most cities they left one to whom they had conveyed their own apostolic powers. These were not called Apostles, as that name was kept for those sent by our Lord in person, but sometimes angels or messengers, and usually bishops, or overlookers of the shepherds. St. James, the cousin of our Lord, remained as Apostle of Jerusalem, while his brothers, Sts. Simon and Jude, went into Mesopotamia, St. Andrew to Arabia, his brother, St. Peter, to the dispersed Jews; St. John and St. Philip to Asia Minor, Sts. Thomas and Bartholomew to India, Sts. Matthew and Matthias to Ethiopia, but not till the former had written his Gospel, which several of the Apostles carried with them, and which has been found in possession of the most ancient Churches by them converted.

Little is known of their labours, as from this time the Acts of the Apostles chiefly dwell on the history of St. Paul; but it seems certain that everywhere they began by preaching to the dispersed Jews; and when these rejected the offer of Salvation, they turned to the heathen, by whom in general it was far more readily received. The Romans, heeding this world's greatness more than any spiritual matter, were not inclined to interfere with any one's religion, and only fancied the Church a sect of the Jews. They usually gave the Apostles their protection if the Jews raged against them; and their ships, their roads, and the universality of their dominion, made the spread of the Gospel much more easy, so that they were made to prepare the way of the Lord, even while seeking only their own grandeur. It was about this time that the Emperor Claudius came to Britain, and his generals won all the southern part of the island, rooting out the cruel worship of the Druids in their groves of oak, and circles of huge stones. He died in the year 55, and was succeeded by his step-son, Nero, a half-mad tyrant, who used to show off like a gladiator; racing in a chariot before all the Romans at the games, collecting them all to listen to his verses, and putting those to death who showed their weariness. He was so jealous and afraid of plots on his life, that he killed almost all his relations, even his mother, for fear they should conspire against him; and all the richer and nobler Romans lived in terror under him, though the common people liked him for being open-handed, and amusing them with the cruel gladiator shows.

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